Oakland, CA – Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong and a group of friends and family of victims of gun violence led a pro-police, anti-violence march on Saturday to call for a unified stand against violent crime.
Anti-police demonstrators and antifa showed up and clashed with members of the group, leading to heated arguments between them and the crime victims’ families and law enforcement supporters, video footage showed.
“Surreal moment in Oakland,” Intercept reporter Lee Fang tweeted. “About 200 mostly black families rally with police to call for an end to the epidemic of gun violence. Mothers at the stage mourning recently murdered children. In the back, less than a dozen mostly white antifa protesters assembled to jeer them.”
Chief Armstrong and many members of the 200-strong “Stand Up for a Safe Oakland” anti-violence group wore white shirts emblazoned with the hashtag “#SAFEOAKLAND” as they made their way from the amphitheater to Lakeshore Avenue, where one person was murdered and six more were wounded during a Juneteenth celebration last month, The Mercury News reported.
“We continue to see shootings every night in the city,” Chief Armstrong told the crowd. “It is time we come together and we unite behind reducing gun violence in the city of Oakland. There are people in our community who don’t feel safe. There are seniors in our community who cannot come out at night. There are young, African-American men and Latino men that are at risk in our city.”
“We have to come together,” the chief insisted. “This is not about politics. This is about saving lives.”
Surreal moment in Oakland. About 200 mostly black families rally with police to call for an end to the epidemic of gun violence. Mothers at the stage mourning recently murdered children. In the back, less than a dozen mostly white antifa protesters assembled to jeer them. pic.twitter.com/uuE9Sohhkm
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) July 10, 2021
Brenda Grisham, whose 17-year-old son was murdered in a shooting in 2010, was one of many family members of gun violence victims who spoke during the event, The Mercury News reported.
“We need your help — we need everyone’s help — because we want this to be the safest Oakland that we can possibly make it,” Grisham told the crowd. “It’s on all of us to build a safer city.”
Some members openly prayed for the city’s law enforcement officers during the gathering.
“Anyone that doesn’t want a safe Oakland should really just get out,” said Regina Jackson, a member of the civilian-led Oakland Police Commission, according to The Mercury News. “We need people to care about how are young people feel.”
Meanwhile, the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP) held a separate caravan from West Oakland to Lowell Park to celebrate the Oakland Police Department (OPD) recently being defunded by more than $18 million, The Mercury News reported.
The group later claimed it had no idea Chief Armstrong would be holding a march when it decided to organize its event, according to The Federalist.
Some members of the anti-police crowd held signs and accused the “Stand Up for a Safe Oakland” group of damaging the Black Lives Matter movement, The Mercury News reported.
“Quit your job, kkkop!” one sign read. “F—k OCP.”
— Y D (@sockpuppet510) July 10, 2021
They chanted the names of people who died in officer-involved incidents, to include Oscar Grant.
But Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, was actually part of the pro-police “Stand Up for a Safe Oakland” group during Saturday’s event, The Mercury News reported.
In #Oakland today there was a "Stand up for a Safe Oakland" rally against gun violence
— AntifaWatch (@AntifaWatch2) July 10, 2021
The Oakland City Council voted 7-2 to defund the OPD by an additional $18.4 million late last month, even as homicide rates continue to skyrocket.
The cut is expected to result in the loss of as may as 50 sworn officer positions, OAN reported.
A total of 714 officers are currently serving with OPD, according to KGO.
In 2014, voters approved Measure Z, which required the city to employ at least 678 officers.
The council’s vote will likely force the agency’s numbers to drop below that requirement, KGO reported.
Crime has continued to spiral out of control ever since, Chief Armstrong said after learning his department will be defunded yet again.
“I’m challenged by the decisions that were made on Thursday around the budget for the city of Oakland, particularly for the Oakland Police Department,” Chief Armstrong told reporters at the time.
“Today, we find ourselves in a crisis… It now has us currently at 65 homicides for the year. That’s a 90 percent increase compared to last year,” he said. “Our shootings are up over 70 percent this year. Our robberies are up 11 percent this year… Our carjackings are up nearly 88 percent.”
“So, we see clearly that crime is out of control in the city of Oakland, and our response was for less police resources,” Chief Armstrong continued.
He also took issue with a “city leader’s” comment about the surging crime rate being “a bump in the road – a speed bump – [and] that we would go through a period would there would be speed bumps and there would be challenges and things might not go right,” he said.
“Well for me, those ‘speed bumps’ are 65 lives so far this year,” the chief told reporters. “Whether its shootings, robberies, carjackings, sexual assaults, all of these crimes are not speed bumps. These are people.”
Chief Armstrong said the focus of so many city meetings is about money and cost and budgets.
“I don’t know what the cost of a life is,” he said. “But I know not having resources makes our city less safe. It concerns me that we would ever consider that to be ‘a bump in the road.’”
Chief Armstrong took a moment to compose himself prior to telling reporters about a recent experience he had out on the streets that exemplified how city leaders are tying officers’ hands.
“Saturday night, I went out to a scene of a young man that lost his life. A lady yelled out the window, ‘Do something about it!’” he said. “Without the resources, it makes it challenging to make Oakland safe.”
Victims and their families are left to pick up the pieces.
“When the yellow tape is gone and when the streets are cleaned up, there is still hurt and pain and tragedy in our community,” Chief Armstrong said. “I hope that we can put politics aside and put public safety first. Put people’s lives first before political agendas.”
The chief added that he is not a politician and that his only goals are to protect the city and to keep people safe.
“That’s what I’m here for,” he said.
Meanwhile, Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas praised the council’s successful police defunding effort.
“I think yesterday was very historic,” Fortunato Bas told KGO at the time. “We’ll be standing up a program called MACRO for alternative crisis responders, to handle mental health issues. We will be having our department of transportation handle issues that police typically handle, blocked driveways, auto tows.”
The MACRO pilot project will use unarmed fire department civilian employees to respond to 911 calls deemed to be nonviolent, The Oaklandside reported.
The Department of Violence Prevention (DVP), which consists of civilian life coaches and “violence interrupters,” will see a 50 percent budget increase under the city council’s new plan, boosting its funding by another $52 million.
“After the brutal killing of George Floyd, after five years and more of organizing among activists for police accountability, for transformative justice, Oakland went through a process to reimagine safety,” Fortunato Bas touted to The Oaklandside. “And on this day, on June 24, we actually are doing something about it. We’re putting our money where our mouth is.”
Oakland Councilman Noel Gallo concurred, and claimed pulling funding from the OPD is the best way to help the city’s residents.
“For me it’s more about where do I appropriate the dollars I have from the taxpayer, to the community,” Gallo told KGO. “It’s not the police officer.”
The reallocated funds will also be used for arts programs and various cultural events, according to The Oaklandside.
“Until we invest in the communities that have been disenfranchised from day one, the marginalized groups, the black folks, the brown folks, the Asian folks, poor people, until we invest in them, then the trauma that these communities have experienced will be replicated,” Councilmember Carroll Fife declared.
Fortunato Bas said 2021 is only a transitional year, and that there will likely be further OPD defunding in the future, KGO reported.
“Because police have the largest share, there could be more redistribution,” she said.
In fact, many members of the council wanted to cut the OPD budget by 50 percent, which would have amounted to $150 million, The Oaklandside reported.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf commended the city council for making “bold investments to reimagine public safety through violence prevention and non-police strategies,” but said the budget cut will “destroy” the city’s current public safety program, according to The Oaklandside.
“Unfortunately, it also cuts 50 police officers who respond to Oaklanders’ 911 calls and enforce traffic safety. It also cuts much-needed future academies, which will significantly reduce police staffing and delay response to Oaklanders in their time of crisis,” Schaaf said in a press release, according to The Oaklandside. “It will force our officers to work even more overtime shifts, which are expensive and unsafe for officers and residents alike.”
The mayor said that the city needs “proven alternatives” to law enforcement and that it cannot simply “destroy Oakland’s current public safety system at a time when we are losing so many to gun violence,” KPIX reported.
Oakland Councilman Loren Taylor argued that some members of the council are laser-focused on defunding the police, regardless of the fact that there are not effective replacements to ensure community safety.
“The whole problem is the focus on defunding,” Taylor told KGO. “My residents in East Oakland overwhelmingly say let’s make sure we have a solid baseline of support until these alternatives are put in place in a way we can depend on.”
Oakland Police Officer Association (OPOA) President Barry Donelan said the massive budget cut “makes no sense” to him.
“Cities across the country have looked at and discarded defund the police,” Donelan told KGO. “But here in Oakland, we seemed to have doubled down on this experiment.”
He said he expects the number of 911 calls that go unanswered will increase as a result of the city council’s decision.